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Kim underwent brain surgery

Reports say N. Korea leader still in control

By Jae-Soon Chang
Associated Press / September 12, 2008
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SEOUL - North Korea's Kim Jong Il had brain surgery after a stroke last month and could have partial paralysis on one side, media reports said yesterday, after the South Korean government said the communist leader remained in control of his country.

Foreign doctors, possibly from China and France, performed the operation after Kim, 66, collapsed about Aug. 15, the newspapers Dong-a Ilbo and JoongAng Ilbo reported, citing unidentified government officials.

Kim's condition has improved and he is not suffering from slurred speech, a disability often associated with a stroke, the reports said.

If Kim were incapacitated, it could have serious implications for international negotiations on North Korea's nuclear disarmament. The talks recently hit a snag because of a dispute between North Korea and the US over how to verify the North's nuclear programs, and a delay by Washington in its promised removal of North Korea from a list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

"I only hope that any situation happening in DPRK should not affect negatively what has been going on in terms of denuclearization process," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said during a news conference yesterday at the United Nations, using the initials for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"I'm also concerned deeply by DPRK's decision to go back to reassembling the nuclear facilities. They must commit to their agreement among the six-party talks for the early realization of the denuclearization process," said Ban, who was South Korea's foreign minister before taking the helm of the UN in January 2007.

Lee Cheol-woo, a South Korean ruling party lawmaker, said in a interview yesterday that Kim is "recovering fast," has "no problem speaking and communicating," and is "able to stand if assisted."

The lawmaker, a leader of the parliamentary intelligence committee briefed by the country's spy agency Wednesday, did not give further details.

However, South Korea's largest newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, said the stroke had left Kim with "partial paralysis." It quoted an unidentified senior government official as saying, "I understand that he is suffering inconvenience on the left part of his body."

South Korea's main spy agency declined to comment on the reports, only repeating a previous statement that Kim's condition had much improved from an unspecified circulatory problem. It also declined to say whether Kim received surgery.

On Wednesday, the office of President Lee Myung-bak said it had received intelligence reports that Kim is recovering from a stroke and is still in control of his country.

The North Korean leader was "not seen to be in a serious condition," presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said in a statement after President Lee convened a security ministers' meeting to discuss the situation.

Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee told a parliamentary committee yesterday that the military does not plan to raise its defense alertness because North Korea's military has shown no unusual signs, a lawmaker's aide said.

"It appears there is no leadership change" in North Korea, the defense chief told lawmakers during a closed-door briefing, according to Jun Eun-hye, an aide to ruling party lawmaker Yoo Seongmin.

Raising the defense alertness "could rather make the people uneasy and provoke North Korea," Lee was quoted as saying.

Speculation about Kim's health intensified after he missed a parade Tuesday commemorating the communist state's founding 60 years ago.

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